The Role of Consonants, Vowels and Tones in Early Lexical Acquisition (COVOTO)

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    Research in infant speech perception has demonstrated that infants are endowed with rich speech capacities that allow them to discriminate many consonantal and vocalic contrasts and to become attuned to the language-specific properties of their native language quickly. An asymmetry insensitivity between consonants and vowels in word learning is first reported in French-learning infants, to the advantage of consonants (C-bias) but subsequent studies revealed that infants exposed to English and Danish displayed no bias or higher sensitivity to vowels. The C-bias, though possibly very stable in adulthood, might not follow the same trajectory cross-linguistically in infancy, pointing towards complex interactions between infants’ endowed speech capacity and their linguistic experience. So far, studies have been limited in two ways: (a) to European languages, and (b) to consonants and vowels, therefore ignoring one crucial linguistic dimension: tonal information. This is a serious limitation given that the majority of languages in the world use tone contrasts at the lexical level. Accordingly, the present project will be the first to address this issue, exploring infants’ relative sensitivity to and use of consonants, vowels and tones in Cantonese and French environments. Data from French and Cantonese toddlers between 14 to 30 months will be collected in two sites: Paris and Hong Kong. Eyetracking experimental tasks will be designed for investigating these toddlers’ use of consonant, vowel and tone contrasts in learning new words, and how non-relevant tone variation may interfere with the word acquisition process, with parallel experimental design and stimulus in both sites. Monolingual French-learning infants will also be examined by a training study for exploring the role of linguistic training in the perceptual reorganization of tone information. Experimental tasks will be further extended to bilingual toddlers. By comparing results from these tasks, the role of linguistic input, its interaction with the innate perceptual capacity for lexical acquisition and its course of development will then be systematically investigated.
    Effective start/end date01/01/1630/04/20


    • language acquisition
    • developmental psychology
    • infant
    • lexical tone